The Sorcery Society: Part One
Ancti was late. Which was strange, not only because Ancti is never late to anything, but also because Ancti would never be late to a meeting.
I waited, patiently, for them to notice. Merah and Vidla were too busy bustling about the room - making sure that their Borovan was the perfect temperature and that the Tigersquash cake was cut fairly - to notice. I looked around the treehouse at the "simple yet classy" decor, as Merah described it: Long, sweeping ebony curtains on the windows, speckled with white; long, cocoa wooden tables pressed against every wall, covered in piles of books and papers; fake stars hanging from the ceiling by string, glowing colors of pink and green and blue; the trapdoor situated on the floor, half concealed by a cranberry-colored rug.
Our treehouse was very small in comparison to the branches of the gargantuan tree it had been built on. During the day, you could barely see it, being concealed by branches and leaves; however, during the night - which it was, at that moment - it was impossible to sight, shrouded in branches and leaves and darkness.
When Merah and Vidla sat down, each holding a piping hot mug and a plate of cake, I watched their eyes dart back and forth in search of the spotted Lupe. The fact that both Ancti and I were Lupes probably had something to do with why we became friends. I was a brown Lupe, and she was a spotted Lupe; we were the only new kids at day care; the teacher paired us together; she was outgoing and warm, while I was cold and shy. And yet, even though that had been years earlier, there we were, best friends, at fourteen.
"Where's Ancti?" Vidla asked, dispelling the steam rising from her mug with a dismissive blow.
Never in my entire life have I ever seen Vidla worried, nervous, or panicked. She was the picture of "calm and collected"; the exact opposite of my sister, Merah, whose eyes were darting wildly about the room, as if Ancti was there and we'd just missed her. Vidla, an Island Lutari, poked her slice of cake with her fork in a bored, disinterested manner.
"Maybe we should go look for her!" Merah, a pink Usul, cried out. She hopped out of her seat and leaned across the table towards me, her eyes worried and wild. "What if something bad happened to her?" Her aqua blue eyes widened with horror, and I could almost imagine the scenes that she must've been conjuring up in her mind.
"C'mon, Ru!" Merah yelled at me. She closed her eyes and started: "Vidla, Merah, Ancti, R - "
"The spell won't work if Ancti isn't here, stupid," I snapped. Merah opened her eyes and deflated instantly. She was going to have one of her breakdowns. Just great.
"What if - What if she never comes?" She sobbed. Vidla calmly removed a handkerchief - one of those lacy ones - from the pocket of her robe and handed it to Merah, who took it gratefully before blowing her nose into it with a shrill squeak.
All four of us wore the same robe to our meetings. They were made of silk and were a rich royal blue, with oversized hoods that cast long shadows over our faces in order to obscure our identities. I remember Merah complaining that it was awfully cliche for a group of mysterious sorcerers and sorceresses to wear such robes, but, as usual, she was ignored.
"She's only five minutes late," I said, aggravated.
But that was still pretty unusual for Ancti, and, before I knew it, I was getting worried and fidgety, as well. I may've been the only boy in our little group, but I couldn't help but feel like my sister sometimes - dramatic and loud; it took an awful lot of willpower to constrict this part of her personality, to suffocate it until it could no longer breathe.
I looked at Vidla, hoping that she'd give me one of those "don't-turn-into-your-sister" stares, but she was gazing vacantly about the room. The Lutari had a thin glaze over her dark, pine green eyes; it was the type of glossy look they gained whenever she was lost in thought. She must've been wondering where Ancti was, as well. Ancti was always on time - not a minute early, not a minute late.
A few minutes passed in tense silence. Then, from outside, came the voice:
"GUYS! GET OUT OF THERE! NOW!"
We all knew it was Ancti's voice. But we didn't have much time to think about her demand.
Because, before we knew it, the world was upside down.
I was flying through the air, seeing nothing but blurriness and a random mash of color: Greens, blues, yellow, reds, pinks, browns, purples... I heard Merah screaming, and, for a second, I believe I saw Vidla's eyes, wide and shocked and stunned. I believe she, like, me, was too stunned for screaming.
Around, around, around I felt us go.
I was getting dizzy when something struck me, sharp and clean, on the head. After that, the world was full of pain, and I was so blinded by it that I couldn't see, couldn't think, couldn't feel - and then I melted into sweet nothingness, as if I were blown away by the wind.
The days were scorching hot; the nights were icy cold. This is was what the yellow Gelert, who, in his younger life, had once aspired to become a poet, was absent-mindedly musing over as he observed the carnage.
The gigantic pine tree had been, obviously, cut down - its trunk had been cleanly cut, and, lying almost triumphantly by the stubborn, grieving trunk, was an axe. The Gelert, who was dressed in a neat, dark suit, thought that it seemed almost as if the axe were smirking. It felt no remorse or guilt for being the accessory to an awful crime, and actually appeared to be quite proud of its accomplishment.
The Gelert turned away from the axe to examine, from afar, the remains of the treehouse. All that remained was board after board of broken, splintered wood, and none of the treehouse's contents remained unscathed. Books were ripped or torn beyond recognition; china plates, tea cups, and mugs had been reduced to jagged shards; a few pretty, star-shaped lights, made of glass, were shattered; and half a tigersquash cake was visibly smashed beneath one huge, bulking tree branch.
The sight was eerie. The Gelert, alone in this forest of tall, thousand-year-old trees, felt like he was in a cemetery, solemnly looking down at the grave of an old friend. He shook his head and turned away, only to be startled by the appearance of his partner, a slender starry Cybunny dressed in a smart suit similar to his own. She was wielding a pen and the green journal she carried wherever she went.
"Give me the details," she ordered, as firm and demanding as a spoiled queen. The Gelert rolled his eyes - she always liked to play the part of the protagonist, as if she was the star PI in a crime novel.
"Three fourteen-year-olds in a treehouse," he told her in a blank monotone, "They were waiting for the fourth member of their group to arrive, but somebody came along and just chopped down the tree. The building structure was crushed by the sheer size and force of the trunk."
"Did any of the kids survive?" the Cybunny asked.
"We don't know," the Gelert replied. "We didn't find any bodies, dead or alive."
The Cybunny continued, unfazed. "Did the fourth kid ever show up?"
"We don't know, but we got a neomail from her parents after the incident. She's gone missing."
10 Years Later
"Emmie. Emmie, look," my little sister, Citrus, called out. "There's a swing!"
I looked up from my book, eyebrows raised. Only two days ago, my mom, my little sister, and I moved from our home on Guild Street to one of the recently finished houses in a new development near Neopia Central, called Happy Meadows. Apparently, there was a giant forest that hadn't been touched in a thousand years or something, but this big company decide to buy up the land, tear down half of the trees, build this pretty, manicured neighborhood, and sell off the houses. My mother was one of the buyers.
My mom, Trish, bought one of the houses along the edge of what remained of the forest. If the entire forest was still standing, and our house was there, we'd be in the dead center.
Although Citrus was ecstatic to have this whole forest in our backyard to explore, I wasn't. Citrus exploring anywhere meant that I'd have to supervise her, and being the superior to an overly excited, hyper, and energized seven-year-old baby Uni isn't exactly my forte. It was always like that: I was the stay-at-home, book-loving one, while Citrus was the adventurous, fearless one. That's us - the complete opposites, the seven-year-old girl and the fourteen-year-old adolescent, the baby Uni and the shadow Wocky, the adventurer with an explorer's spirit and the bookworm with the literate's soul. I love Citrus, though. More than I can ever say.
Although I'd told Citrus to stay put, she'd been slowly making her way towards the edge of the woods whilst trying to be as subtle as possible. I pretended that I wasn't noticing, but then I couldn't even see her - she was lost in the trees and underbrush. With a sigh, I placed my book on top of the lawn chair I was lying down on and ventured into the forest to find my little sister.
"Citrus?" I called out.
"Over here! Look, Emmie! I can swing high, high, high!" the Uni replied, right before letting out a fit of giggles.
It didn't take me long to find her. She was sitting on a makeshift swing: a smooth board of wood tied to a strong, thick tree branch with two long strips of rope. Once upon a time, the wood had been painted a lovely sky blue, but the paint had chipped to the point where only a few miniscule patches of color remained.
It was at that moment that I realized just how tall the trees in that forest were. They towered above me and Citrus like great skyscrapers, their branches stretched out like zombified limbs. They were like ancient soldiers, with thick torsos and thick arms, assigned to watch over the planet for all eternity.
"Emmie!" Citrus yelled when she saw me. "Teehee! Isn't this cool? Wait - look at this!" As soon as the swing had hit its high point, the little Uni jumped off and began to plummet towards the ground head-first; I let out a gasp of horror, but, then, just as she was an inch or so above the ground, Citrus swooped up, flapping her little wings as hard as she could. She landed in front of me with a graceful "Ta-da!"
I let out an exasperated sigh. "Be careful, Citrus!" I warned her.
But something else had already caught her attention. "Ooo! This place is so cool, Emmie! Look! It's something for you!"
My eyebrows rose - again - as Citrus darted past me and right into a big, thorny-looking bush. I heard her say ow, right before the sound of her tugging at something that must've been caught in the bush's branches filled my ears. I looked at my little sister in bewilderment; she was just a patch of pastel pink in that huge, wild bush. After a moment, Citrus let out a loud, triumphant "Yes!", right before emerging from the bush, covered in leaves with branches, thorns, and burrs tangled in her fur.
What caught my attention the most, however, was what she held her in her hooves: A book.
"You like reading, Emmie. You like reading lots! Here. It's a gift," Citrus squealed, her eyes glowing with delight. I took the book from her tentatively.
It was a small, thin book, softly bound in faded red leather. How Citrus had spotted it in that bush, I had no idea. There was no writing on the cover. I thumbed through the crisp, yellowed wafer pages to find that the book was a journal, half-filled with entries written in small, neat print.
"Let's go back to the house, Citrus," I said, "I think your favorite Neovision show is on."
"Oori the Usul and her Gangee Gang? Really? C'mon then! Let's go!" Citrus squeaked, bulleting ahead of me.
Inside our house, Citrus forced Trish to watch her silly show with her while I went upstairs to my room with the old, beaten journal, my curiosity becoming more and more insatiable by the moment. Finally, I closed my bedroom door, plopped down on my bed, and read.
"14th Day of the Month of Gathering..."
To be continued...